The Island Cup rivalry between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket includes blowout wins and hard-fought losses. But there has never been a shutout, at least not on Nantucket.
On Saturday the Vineyarders made history by defeating Nantucket 14-0 on Whaler home turf in the 35th official meeting of the squads. The win tipped the Island Cup scales to the Vineyard side, with the purple and white now leading the series 18-17. The Vineyard was playing for its 10th straight Island Cup victory, a fact not lost on the team as they huddled prior to kickoff.
“Let’s make it 10 years, boys, let’s go,” one captain said to the squad just before the players clapped their hands and lined up against the Whalers.
Early scouting reports showed Nantucket to be a more physically imposing squad, with a particularly strong group of linemen and a pinpoint passing game.
Head coach Donald Herman said he’d been asked several times how the Vineyard was going to compete against the Whaler front line.
“We’re faster then they are,” he said.
The offense, he said, “did what we needed to do to put points on the board.” And the Vineyard defense, hampered all season due to injuries, played at its peak.
“I thought we played good football all year, defensively,” Coach Herman said. “We had the injuries, had issues, [but that] added to our depth, and then people started coming back.” Although five players were still sidelined on Saturday, starters DeShawn James, David Macias and Tyler Paulson all returned for the Island Cup.
“Our defense came up big,” senior Tony Canha said. Canha came back to play for the final game of his high school career after five games out with a foot injury.
“It was a lot of adrenaline,” he said of the return. “It was tough to keep calm until the game.”
“We were just trying to stay calm and collected as much as we could,” said senior captain Joe Turney, a three-year varsity starter. Asked what stood out the most about the win, he pointed to the up-and-comers on the squad.
“I’d say definitely our younger kids stepping up for us,” Turney said, noting that sophomore Jacob Cardoza scored both Vineyard touchdowns. Sophomore Austin Chandler, meanwhile, led the defense with seven tackles and two fumble recoveries.
Both the defense and the next generation of athletes were on display in the very first series of the game as the Vineyard forced Nantucket to 3rd and 9 in the opening two minutes and Chandler recovered his first fumble on the next play. The Vineyard was in their own territory, but that made little difference as senior quarterback Tony Breth handed off to Cardoza, who skirted the outside Whaler line and rushed 78 yards downfield for the first touchdown of the game. Nantucket blocked freshman James Sashin’s extra point attempt.
But with just over a minute left in the quarter, carries by Turney set the stage for a second touchdown run by Cardoza, who pushed the ball in on a six-yard run and followed it up with a successful two-point conversion to make the score 14-0, Vineyard.
“He was flying around,” assistant coach Jason O’Donnell said of Cardoza, who had 128 yards on 14 carries. With the Vineyard’s speed and ability to break a defense wide open, Coach O’Donnell said, “we knew we were going to get [a touchdown] eventually. We just didn’t expect it so soon.” The Vineyard put up 285 yards of offense, 275 of which came on rushing plays. Nantucket was limited to 51 rushing yards and 63 passing yards.
“Today was crazy, everybody was just fired up,” Breth said after the game. The Island Cup, he said, was “probably our most complete game of the season.”
Breth took over as quarterback five games into the season after starting junior Mike Mussell injured his thumb playing against Bishop Feehan. Mussell returned for the next game, playing receiver, but soon learned he would be out for the season.
“I didn’t really expect to play this [position] at first,” Breth said. “I thought it was just going to be for a game or two.” What followed was a spate of quick learning in the “teeth of the schedule,” he said, against league rivals Somerset and Coyle and Cassidy. Breth hadn’t played quarterback since his junior varsity days.
“He struggled a bit with the pass, but we tried not to ask him to win the game by throwing the ball,” Coach Herman said. “We just wanted him to manage the game and he did a very good job of that. He’s very football-smart.”
That game management was particularly apparent in the second half. They launched a stifling drive that ate up most of third quarter and in the fourth quarter, which included a Joe Turney interception, the defense dominated. On Nantucket’s final drive, with 1:52 left in the game, senior Lochlund Chimes made a one-handed block of Whaler quarterback Andrew Ray’s pass.
“I felt good the last two and a half minutes of the game, but not really until the last minute,” Coach Herman said.
As the clock wound down, players celebrated by dumping the water cooler on their coach. After the final second ticked off they rushed to midfield, senior captain John Henry O’Shaughnessy holding the Island Cup high. O’Shaughnessy missed last year’s big game, and half of this year’s season due to a torn ACL.
“I’m happy for the kids, happy for the coaches. It was a great way to finish the season,” Coach Herman said. “This team was just tenacious.”
Arriving back in Vineyard Haven Saturday night, the team received a hero’s welcome. A row of ambulances and fire trucks sounded their horns and flashed their lights while a crowd gathered at the ferry terminal, phones and cameras at the ready.
The team marched off the boat to loud cheers, waving a purple Vineyard flag and holding the cup aloft.